The most interesting free agent in the NBA open market

Chris Boucher doesn’t look like a typical NBA player. Sure, he’s 6ft 9 and has a wingspan of 7ft4, and he sure can shoot and defend – but he also only hits 200lbs. He’s not quite a member of The Thin Towers, but he’s not far off: His weight ranks 46th out of the 47 tallest players last season, according to Statheed, and is 28 pounds lighter than the 6-foot-9 NBA player. .

And the reserve senior didn’t enjoy the most productive season from 2021-22: In 80 games, he averaged 9.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 0.3 assists per contest. Even in a Raptors team that relies heavily on players of his height and skill, Boucher, in his 29-year season, fell to 21 minutes per game.

These flaws made Boucher a relatively anonymous free proxy. ESPN didn’t include it in its list of the 15 best free proxies available. NBC listed 30 names, none of which were Boucher. He’s crept into the Hoops Hype list, but just no. 27.

But, odd proportions or not, lackluster statistics or not, Boucher deserves more attention. Last seen posting 25 points and 10 double rebounds as the 76ers eliminated the Raptors from the playoffs, this offbeat player offers legit two-way potential and is a perfect fit for the modern basketball trend. He wouldn’t be rocking the title race himself, but he’s the most underrated free agent of the summer.

While his superficial stats lack oomph, Boucher appears to have a knack, year after year, to make his team better when on the ground. He has led the Raptors in the net rating in each of the past two seasons. In this respect, he is similar to Alex Caruso and Sixers’ recent acquisition De’Anthony Melton, two keepers who publish mid-box point stats but impressive impact numbers.

The best statistical type to measure this phenomenon is RAPM, or Regulated Plus-Minus Rate, which takes the net rating of a team with a specific player on the field and adjusts the identity of his teammates and opponents. As a proof of concept, here are RAPM’s top ten players over the past three seasons, according to the NBA Shot charts:

  1. Kohi Leonard
  2. Jason Tatum
  3. Giannis Antikonmo
  4. Rudy Gobert
  5. Stephen Curry
  6. Joel Embiid
  7. Chris Paul
  8. LeBron James
  9. Alex Caruso
  10. Paul George
  11. Nikola Jokic
  12. Kevin Durant

Ignore the rankings (most of these players are grouped fairly closely) and this is a fairly accurate representation of the league’s top players. The only outcast is Caruso, an elite role player.

Boucher does not appear to be a star by the RAPM, but he does get good grades. The reserve team has been ranked 40th among all players for the past three seasons, one place behind Jamal Murray and two behind Marcus Smart. RAPM says it makes his team 2.8 points better per 100 holdings, which is a meaningful margin.

Granted, no one is actually suggesting Boucher is the 50 best player in the NBA – but he has some super strengths. First, despite its slender chassis, the Boucher is a long-range blocker, both on the edge and on the perimeter. Over the past few seasons, Matisse Thybulle has only blocked more than 3 shots from Boucher, who uses his speed, 7 feet and 4 wingspan to lock in unsuspecting shooters.

It’s also an opportunistic offensive skill, one that can be overlooked in the league that doesn’t prioritize smashing plates but can nonetheless swing the playoffs. (Just ask the Warriors and Kevin Looney.) Sometimes Boucher grabs offensive plates himself; Other times, his position helps his teammates achieve honors. Last season, the Raptors snatched 4.3 percent of offensive rebounds when Boucher was on the ground versus when he wasn’t, in clearing the glass—the third season in a row they were much better in that area with Boucher.

Combine these two forces, and Boucher is one of half a dozen players who have played at least 3,000 minutes in the past three seasons to exceed their 10% offensive rebound rate and 5% block rate. He is the only member of this group with any 3-point range to speak of.

Total high mass and offensive rebound, the last three seasons

player BLK% orb% 3 p
player BLK% orb% 3 p
Chris Boucher 6.2 10.7 196
Hassan Whiteside 8.0 14.2 4
Jacob Boeltel 5.8 12.9 1
Mitchell Robinson 7.0 15.3 0
Robert Williams III 7.5 14.3 0
Rudy Gobert 5.8 12.1 0

This chart includes players who have played at least 3,000 minutes over the past three seasons, have at least a 10% offensive bounce rate and a 5% block rate in that period.

(Relax the minute limit and a few VIPs like Isaiah Hartenstein would make this list as well, albeit more non-shooters. Hartenstein, who is also a free agent, placed one place behind Boucher on the RAPM leaderboard as well.)

Boucher isn’t considered as agile in a bystander or as a physical defender as Williams, but his 3-point hit adds an element that Williams doesn’t have. The big question for Boucher is how realistic his shot is. He boosted his 3-point accuracy to 38.3% in 2020-21, then fell to 29.7% last season. The league as a whole was worse from a distance last season, having played in mostly empty gyms in 2020-21, but Boucher’s drop was one of the biggest for any player.

Biggest 3-point drop last season (at least 150 attempts)

player 2020-21 2021-22 they change
player 2020-21 2021-22 they change
T Jerome 42.3% 29.0% -13.2%
gilgus alexander tea 41.8% 30.0% -11.8%
Reggie Jackson 43.3% 32.6% -10.6%
Marcus Morris 47.3% 36.7% -10.6%
Joe Engels 45.1% 34.7% -10.4%
Julius Randle 41.1% 30.8% -10.4%
Cameron Payne 44.0% 33.6% -10.3%
Frank Jackson 40.7% 30.8% -9.8%
Jeff Green 41.2% 31.5% -9.7%
Chris Boucher 38.3% 29.7% -8.6%

Several evidence suggests that Boucher could stick as an efficient ground separator going forward. His free-throw percentages have always remained steady (78.5 percent of his career), highlighting his touch in shooting. Most of his struggles last season were confined to a horrific start, hitting 21 percent in 3 seconds during his first 28 games. After that, he rebounded to his mid-30s through the rest of the regular season and made 40 percent of his playoff attempts.

After all, Boucher has an extreme skill set: he’s really good at the things he does well and really bad at the things he doesn’t. (Look at his trivial passing numbers for an example of the latter: He had 25 assists in 80 games last season.) He’s not a 30-minute-per-night solution against every opponent. But as long as his team knows his strengths and can put him in a proper role – as the Warriors did on their way to a title with supporting players like Looney and Gary Payton II – he can excel when asked.

His slender body might hurt him in the face of more physically big men, but there aren’t many teams that could benefit much as the post-workout decline continues across the league. As recently as 2014-2015, all 30 teams used post-processing for at least 5 percent of their holdings; Last season, only seven teams did, and no team was ever double digits. Boucher’s foul rate – a major problem stemming from his lack of size – has fallen in every season of his career.

Boucher can also stick to guards on the ocean when summoned. In the past two seasons, opposing teams have scored just 0.91 points per possession when attacking Boucher with a substitution, in the second spectrum, who ranks 20th in efficiency. More info Looney and Al Horford, who are big switch players, are both at 0.91 points per acquisition in the same period.

In free agency, Boucher can be a particularly attractive option as some teams embrace the modern twin towers philosophy, far from the ultra-small trend of the late 2010s. At just 200 pounds, Boucher probably can’t hold out as a full-time centerpiece — but when paired with a large group Well established, it can fill a widespread need for large men who can protect the tire while still maintaining ambient mobility. He might be a good fit for the Bull or Timberwolves, both of whom are said to be eyeing the likes of Rudy Gobert and Clint Capella in the commercial market. It would also act as a stealthly convenient backup option for a team like the Bucks, should Bobby Portis leave to get more money elsewhere.

Not everyone ignores Boucher as free agency approaches. in the athlete, John Hollinger’s Advanced Statistics Model says Boucher is a number. 8 players in the whole class, before a group of names that were announced. Hollinger’s player model says Boucher is worth $19.8 million annually. He might charge half that – which makes it an excellent bargain for a contender tied to a cap.

Even with a rickety shot, Boucher remains a valuable player, as he proved in a bench role in the Raptors last season. But if his shot is legitimate and returns closer to his level in 2020-21, Boucher will be the kind of two-way role player every modern NBA contender needs. No team can have enough players that can protect the paint and clear the floor. Teams should take note when Boucher becomes available on July 1.